I always go on about our fantastic worldwide fan base but it’s true. I always wear my colours whenever I’m not working and did so when we travelled to Florida last month. Having stayed at The Great Western, Altrincham the night before, a minibus was coming to pick us up to take us to the airport. Lo and behold when the driver saw me he shouted out that it was fantastic to see another Leeds fan in that place across the Pennines. I said apart from two in our group, the other eight of us were all Leeds fans! He was a mate of John Sheridan and he used to travel everywhere when he played for us as he got free tickets. To my delight and the dismay of my son-in-law Steve, he then proceeded to play Marching on Together all the way to the airport so we had a sing song! Loved it, couldn’t have had a better start to our holiday! Meeting Leeds fans didn’t end there either as just as we were boarding the plane someone shouted me who knows me from the message boards, to say a mutual friend was out in Florida at the same time. We acknowledged each other with the Leeds salute. On the way back from Orlando airport there were a couple of kids with their Leeds shirts on, again the Leeds salute played a part in acknowledging each other. There were other Leeds fans out there at the same time as us as I saw the Leeds shirts from a distance and it just shows the camaraderie amongst our fans.
Although a night game it just shows how the appetite has been whetted as we faced another crowd over 30,000 for the second time in a few days. The marketing of the ticket bundle price showing that the fans will come if given the right encouragement plus the goods on the pitch are looking great!
My other half was coming to the game today along with Ken who hasn’t been to a game since an Arsenal home game in 1999. Captain had commented on the fact that we could go top of the league tonight and that it normally goes wrong. I said not this time it won’t as things are different. Ken travelled everywhere with the Halifax branch and then when I started running the Selby branch of the Leeds United Supporters Club, he used to travel with me from Halifax and come on my coach. I made sure I got a picture of him with Don Revie. As I got to the statue Paul from down south said I must be Heidi and he enjoys reading my blog so of course I took his photo.
In the ground I decided to go down to the front to see if I could get some better photos of the team coming out as it had just started to rain. I was stood at the bottom of the steps waiting for the team to come out as it was just before kick-off. A steward walked down from the top of the steps to tell me to stand at the side out of the way and not to block people coming down the steps. Okay…. but what a jobsworth as not one person came down the steps anyway so a bit of common sense wouldn’t have gone amiss!!! A lad then came to say I was stood in his seat but once I explained I would only be a few minutes taking photos he was happy to leave me there. Whilst stood at the front another fan said he reads my blog and I was happy to take photos of him with his boys.
The team today was Wiedwald, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Anita, Phillips, O’Kane, Saiz, Alioski, Lasogga and Hernandez. Subs were Berardi for Cooper (69), Roofe for Alioski (60) and Dallas for Hernandez (80). Leeds won 2-0 with goals from Saiz (17) and Dallas (90 + 2). Attendance was 31,507 with 614 Birmingham fans.
As the game kicked off it didn’t take long to see that Birmingham would be a lot tougher opposition than Burton had been. There were some bits of good play but our passing wasn’t as precise as it had been in recent games with many going astray. One thing that did stand out for me though was the passes we were spraying across the field that did reach our players which were fantastic to see. At times I felt very confident that things would go our way as we were cool, calm and collected. At other times with our sweeper keeper things got a little too close for comfort. The good thing though was the team fighting to get the ball back if they lost it and many times managed to do just that. The backing up of each other and never giving up does makes a difference. At one time just as a few fans were starting to get restless the Leeds fans started singing which drowned this out luckily. We were very unlucky not to go ahead when Hernandez’s shot was cleared off the line. It didn’t take us long after that to take the lead though as Lasogga hit a powerful shot that brought a great save from the keeper only for Saiz to get their first to put the ball into the net. Spirits were high after that until just before the break as it went very quiet. I reckon most of the singers had gone to the bar! We nearly conceded right at half time when Wiedwald was beaten only for Ayling to fling himself across the goal and clear the ball away for a corner. That was a narrow shave but a great save to protect our lead.
In the second half we carried on in the same way we left off in the first half and although we had a fighting spirit and a couple of chances, I felt sure that we would sub someone shortly. Alioski hadn’t made the same impact tonight and was subbed but had been tightly marked as Birmingham didn’t make it easy for us. I didn’t realise it was Stockdale in their goal until after the game but he pulled off a few great saves to stop us going further into the lead. As it was it was Birmingham who nearly equalised but I’d seen the linesman put his flag up for offside so wasn’t duly worried as the ball hit the net in front of the South Stand. The conditions weren’t great with heavy rain throughout the game and it was still backs to the wall as Birmingham never gave up. Just before the end of the game some Leeds fans started singing Leeds are falling apart again and I thought shhhh as I started getting a bit anxious that they would get an equaliser. My next thoughts were that our fans needed to up the atmosphere and make us the 12th man and intimidate Birmingham. In the 80s that’s exactly what we did with both the Gelderd End and the South Stand. The Leeds fans then did up the ante and in injury time were rewarded with a second goal when Dallas scored from the edge of the box. That was it game over as the ecstatic fans went into raptures and singing about being top of the league. The final minutes were absolutely fantastic and it was a wonderful feeling to know we had topped the league. Despite it being early days and despite it not meaning anything other than pride at this moment, it was something to cherish as it’s been a long, long time since that has happened. Still unbeaten but scoring goals from players all over the park means we are not relying on one player. As it is no one really knows which team will start the game which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion as it will make it harder for the opposition to prepare. Birmingham did put up a good fight and will be unhappy about the final score but at the end of the day unless a goal counts, then so be it! They were a lot harder opposition that’s for sure but we had to dig our heels in and fight for the three points. The team spirit along with them embracing the fan base is good to see. I really feel we are going places once again and for the majority of times I am confident that we can build on this great start to the season. The little doubts only last a minute or so and give me chance to banish them to the back of my mind.
The only sour point on the night was reaching my car and finding out that the van next to me had been broken into and all the tools pinched. I felt so much for the lad as that is his livelihood. The thing is these things have been happening for a while so I’m surprised the helicopter isn’t used more to overlook the area around the ground.
Saturday sees an early start for Millwall but at least I can sleep on the coach. We just need to carry on and get as many points as we can and let the other teams worry about us. Burnley away in the cup follows on Tuesday before Ipswich at home and Cardiff. Lots of games in a short space of time but at least we can look forward to some great football once again which I love. See you there – LUFC – Marching on Together!
Heidi Haigh a Leeds United supporter of over 50 years; author of Follow Me and Leeds United, Once a Leeds fan, always a Leeds fan and co-author of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United, Leeds United in the 1980s with Andrew Dalton. My new book The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United season 2016-2017 will hopefully be out by Christmas 2017!